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HERBIG IDEA is a creative studio comprised of WHITNEY LYLE and SAM HERBIG. Whitney is a designer who loves to create books, packaging, and do more crafty projects in her spare time. Sam is a film electrician who loves to take photos tirelessly, while finding time on the side to create maps in various mediums (a long-standing hobby, starting with his 3-d topographical map of his hometown, Tübingen, Germany in elementary school).

Together, Whitney's big picture ideas and Sam's impeccable attention to detail, they pull prints in a print shop or set-up a makeshift photography studio. They love to generate ideas and find ways to execute them. 


We're chronicling our travels around the states on this blog. Check it out, if you're bored and sitting on an apple box (you can also check it out from home or the office).

Filtering by Category: Diary


Whitney Lea

A whole lotta nothing...

Something we have both learned on the trip has been that things are almost always more than they seem. We have also learned that a place (or experience in the case of the road trip) is more than the sum of it's parts. Nothing could be a better example of this than the Lightning Field.

Our trip to the Lightning Field was by far the most expensive single night on our trip. It was also our second wedding anniversary, which certainly helped to validate the cost. We had heard about it from Sam's work buddy, Hunter, who had visited a number of years ago with his girlfriend Laura. 

We woke up in Gallup and knew that we needed to be in Quemado, NM by 2PM. According to Google it would be a 2.5 hour drive. We got up, ran to the store to grab some drinks and snacks, and then got on the road. I think we spent almost the entire time talking about the German National Soccer team because we had downloaded a pre-World Cup friendly match to watch if we managed to have downtime during the day. (We discussed our ideal squad, both lamenting that Marcel Schmeltzer would likely not play, that Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger would both give us a weak mid-field if they weren't at top performance, why the hell Toni Kroos is ever a part of the line-up, and whether the coach should pick Marco Reus or Andreas Schürrle to play attacking mid-field. This sounds like an awful conversation for most of the people reading this, but I assure you that talking about my favorite team was a wonderful anniversary gift.) We had looked at the forecast and saw that no rain was expected for our time there but decided we would still have a nice time regardless (we had the game, remember?). The only things we knew about the Lightning Field are what I am about to tell you now:

We would arrive in Quemado, park at an empty white building on the main street, bring whatever we would need for the night provided it wouldn't take up a ton of space, sign an NDA and a guestbook and then get in a car/truck with a cowboy who would drive us to the Lightning Field. Once there we would settle into a small cabin with up to 4 other people, eat dinner, and wait for night to fall and hope that a storm would roll through. In the morning, the cowboy would come back to pick us up and bring us back to Quemado. The Lightning Field isn't the house, but a field behind the house with a bunch of metal rods set-up as a grid, 1 kilometer by 1 mile in size. All of this was situated in a valley that attracts a lot of lighting and if it were to strike, it would dance across the metal rods and look super cool. An artist had come up with the concept and had done a few similar pieces with metal rods that could be found in different parts of the world.

So that's what we knew. What actually happened wasn't as flashy on the surface but it was decidedly more impactful in the end. We did park at the white building and sort through our cooler. We signed a paper that made us promise not to touch the metal rods if a storm rolled in and to use common sense. Nothing explicitly said no cameras, but we had read that part online somewhere and decided to leave the digital in the car. We sat by ourselves for a few minutes before being joined by 3 other people. Surprisingly enough, we discovered that not only were they also from New York City, but all three worked in the film industry. Two of them even knew Hunter (they actually had no idea that he had even been), although the reasons they were visiting were entirely their own. One of them had worked at an art foundation in Marfa, frigging Texas (that we had never heard of as a matter of fact) and that was where she had heard about The Lightning Field. It's a small world after all. 

Quemado according to Google Earth and Photoshop

Around 2 our "cowboy" showed up. Her name was Kim and she was a lifelong resident of Quemado, though she had briefly lived in Pie Town, just up the road a half hour or so. She was in High School when Walter De Maria (wiki!) began his Lightning Field project and many locals had no idea it was going on. High school students knew though because they actually helped him build the whole thing. We loaded into her Suburban and belted in for a bumpy ride. Kim told us a bit about working at the field and the maintenance she and Robert (the cowboy that Hunter referenced) have done in recent years, as well as about how the land was procured. She explained that Walter was very careful to buy up enough land so that when you're exploring the field you can see no trace of other people. She mentioned that someone built a house that was in view on one of the mounds in the distance, but I looked pretty carefully once we were there and saw nothing of the sort. Kim also talked about why we had an escort. Part of it is to preserve mystery about the exact location of the house, but the real reason is because the road to get there is total shit. As we drove it felt like we were in a monster truck at the rally as it drives over old beat up cars. The road was large gravel with some parts that were small holes and I think Kim maintained a speed of 50MPH. It was exciting.

So we arrived at this small homesteaders cabin and could faintly see many poles glinting in the distance behind the house. Kim opened the house and gave us a quick tour. It was actually quite beautiful and everything was thoroughly thought about and well-made. We entered in a kitchen that had basics and a little more. There were beans in a slow cooker and a tray of enchiladas in the fridge. Flan for dessert. Coffee, eggs, bacon, granola, fruit for morning breakfast. She showed us the bathroom, the three bedrooms, and the main room which had a few comfortable chairs and a large dining area. There was a binder with an artist's statement, as well as a typewritten version of an article about it from ArtForum in the late 1970s. Kim talked about the different animals we might see and also strongly urged us to walk around the field at sunset and sunrise. She kept remarking that she wondered if the artist was aware of so many different aspects of how the poles interact with the landscape when he decided on this parcel of land for this work and the different traits of the rods. I kept thinking, "Does she mean that there was supposed to be a lot of lightning here, or what? All I see is a bunch of scrublands, just like the rest of New Mexico. And most of Texas and Arizona, and Utah. Sure, it's pretty, but it's nothing miraculous." 

When she left we picked our bedrooms (the other group let us have the room with a double bed facing the field because it was our anniversary, which I thought was very nice of them). Then we hopped outside and walked onto the field. The poles themselves weren't quite as shiny as chrome, but they were more shiny than a stop sign post. They were all between 15 and 18 feet tall and were spaced pretty far apart. The tops were rounded points, so they looked like rows of metallic toothpicks stuck into the ground. There were hundreds of them and it was hard to see from one end to another from where we stood in front of the house. In the distance were a few rocky hills, similar to much of the landscape in that part of the United States. We walked about 3 posts into the grid and then 3-4 posts to the right. We looked around and were impressed, but didn't quite feel compelled to make the trek around the perimeter as our compatriots were doing. The ground was pretty uneven, the sun was pretty intense. The wind would kick up every now and then. All in all, our initial impression was, "Heh, ok, this is pretty cool. But it's too bad that we won't see lightning." We spent a lot of time talking to each other about the changes in soil or guessing about which animals could have created some of the poop pellets we were seeing. Noticing small wild flowers. Longing for Sam's camera, but still trying to make observations with the same eye we use when we do have it with us. 

When we returned to the house we skimmed the artist's statement and read some of the technical specs. Apparently all of the pointed tops on the rods were at the same height so that a flat plane could balance perfectly on the points without any slant, not an easy feat considering how uneven the ground was. Again, we were mostly considering the meaning of our time there on the surface only. I remember thinking to myself that all in all, it was definitely a really special place, but not quite as cool as many of the other great things we had seen on the trip. I thought that maybe we had reached a "cool stuff out West" overload and I couldn't appreciate the more simple things because we had explored so much in the previous two months. I focused on appreciating the engineering of the whole field a lot more than I normally would. I thought to myself, it was just as much a feat in engineering/land surveying as it was a piece of art. After our introduction to the lightning field Sam and I decided to take a nap for an hour before cracking a few beers and watching the game.

Lumo Field View No. 1

This is where my eyes finally started to open. Since our bedroom window overlooked the field, I glanced out every now and then as we watched the soccer game. I noticed that one moment the poles would look like a series of bright white gashes against the hills in the background. Five minutes later they were nearly invisible. The sunlight, shiny metal, and very plain surroundings were playing tricks on my eyes. I thought, "Hmm, maybe that's what Kim meant when she was wondering if Walter intended the poles to look like this..." Still, I chalked up the invisible poles to the hundred yards of distance between me and the field. After the game we ate a snack and went back out to the field. We had all agreed to eat dinner after sunset so we could enjoy the hours leading up to it fully out there.

We got outside about 20 minutes before scheduled sunset and headed right, or West, along the far edge of the perimeter. It wasn't a well-beaten path, but it was smoother than walking across the raw scrubland. We had the Lumo and Quad cameras, because we had justified that taking "artistically motivated" photographs that aren't meant to capture the field itself would be permissible. The cameras were entirely plastic after all;  we wouldn't be able to depict anything realistically. We noticed the poles started to take on a peach color, akin to the sky. Before we really realized it, we were at the mid-point of the Western side of the perimeter. The sun was still up and we had walked an entire quarter, so we decided, heck, let's walk the whole thing.

The sunset itself was more colorful than any I had ever seen before. In the opposite direction, the hills in the distance were becoming more intensely hued. Looking East at the poles as the sun blazed, the colors were different every minute. One second they were the color of smoked salmon, the next they looked like rows and rows of hot pink neon lights. They changed to golden toothpicks and then as we rounded the next corner the bottoms of the poles would take on the purple color that the hills had become. We were looking back at the last moments of the sun, trying to really soak in the beauty, all the colors, all of the rapid changes that were still hard to detect from one second to the next. As the colors started to take on more blues and purple, about half a mile into the third side, we found ourselves focusing on the changes in perspective as we walked amongst the rods. All perfectly aligned. If the house hadn't been there to orient us, we may have walked in circles all night and not even noticed. And with less light to play tricks it was easier to get an actual count of the rods and see the poles at each of the farthest corners.

Lumo Field View No. 2

It was dark and the stars were starting to appear as we rounded the last corner. The homesteader's cabin was glowing a warm yellow, casting long milky light out into the field. We carefully made our way back to the porch and then into the house, which by now smelled like enchiladas.

We all sat together for dinner, then champagne and flan, and finally a round of cocktails. The five of us talked about our experience on the field. We now understood what caused Kim to wonder about how much Walter De Maria could have realized when he decided to create art there. Did he intend for light, not lighting to be so much at play? Did he know how starkly everything would change from moment to moment, or did he start out with a surface idea that gained depth as he continued to plan and then build the field; much in the same way our expectations evolved into realities during our visit. What things happen there that he didn't imagine even then? It really did seem like this particular spot was a magical place for the Lightning Field to be. And even though it took him five years of scouting to choose this spot, I'm certain some of the effects of the field on the rods and the rods on the field couldn't be foreseen. Did he use the idea of a "lightning show" to draw people in like a marketing point or headline, and then let them explore and discover what this place is really about for themselves? How much does the small number of people visiting at one time and the overnight stay impact how meditative the audience is about this work?

That night we went out into the field once more to stargaze. Sam tried to take some long-exposure pictures of the house with his Lumo, but they didn't turn out in the end. We went to bed fairly early with the intention of catching sunrise, just as Kim had suggested. I have to say, sunrise was beautiful, but not as transformational as sunset. The neon glow was back, but rather than pink, they rods glowed buttery yellow. The sky was pale and lacking the intense colors that we had seen the night before. It was more serene and peaceful. An awakening feeling, but I am not a morning person. So after about 20 minutes we went back to sleep for four more hours. 

Breakfast was tasty and we followed with one last walk around the field where I ignored my rule-following instincts and told Sam it would be okay to take a cell-phone picture of the house.

Kim came to take us back to Quemado at 11 and before we knew it,  we were saying goodbye to our new friends and driving down the road to Pietown (wiki!). Which is known for, you guess it, pie. We split a lovely slice and the snapped this photo before making our way to Santa Fe for a night.

Pie related mood improvement

Pie related mood improvement

Interlude and Update from the Reunited City

Whitney Lea

So, it has been awhile since we posted about the road trip. We actually have the post for Moab drafted and half of the Lightning Field post done, but never got around to putting everything together. It's not that we wanted to stop the blog with an entire month of the roadtrip left to write about. We got behind and then hit the ground running when we got back to Virginia. And mark my words, we will finish blogging this trip. Sometimes life has to come first, though.

After the trip my sister, Mary, got married to her awesome husband, Eric. We went to Virginia Beach with the Lyle side of my family and Sam's older sister Elisa joined us there with her family. Then we had a few weeks to get everything organized, sort through plans, emotions, money, possessions, celebrate a big win for our favorite sports team (World Cup Victory for the DFB!) and suddenly we were on a bus with our stuff in suitcases headed up to New York. We went to one last wedding, for Sam's cousin Nate and his bride, Audry. And then we checked into our transatlantic flight with tears in our eyes. The lady who checked us in at JFK took pity on us and put us in seats with extra legroom, which was actually very nice.

We have been in Berlin for a month now, and I can definitely say I really love this city. My friend Julia gave me the idea to take a photo every day and send it to my mom (via google hangouts!), so I've been trying to do that. I haven't taken one every single day, but have definitely done it for most. I decided that to celebrate our first month here I want to share those photos here as well!  This will be a long post. The photos are all cell phone pictures that I've taken so the quality isn't comparable to what Sam can do, but they still give a nice impression of our lives here so far. I am only going to apologize for the poor quality of these photos once though!

My first few days (weeks?) here I was a bit numb and overwhelmed. I saw this while Sam and I were on the way to the bakery on our first full day in Berlin. I'll call it a call to action.

We have been staying at Sam's brother (Leo) and almost-sister-in-law's (Franzi) place since we arrived. It's an awesome apartment in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain. We have our own room and they are really nice hosts. When we got here they already had a bed, couch, desk, and clothes racks in our room for us. On our second full day we went to ikea and bought a shelf for 36€ (in wood behind me there!) and that is where we store our clothes for now. It's actually much more accessible than a dresser and I'm considering keeping it as clothes storage even if we get to ship our stuff over. Dressers aren't that common here for clothes anyway.

Above is from a walk we took to Prenzlaur Berg on our third day, a neighborhood north of Friedrichshain. I like color. Can you tell? I think that's why Berlin and I can be friends.

This is Mauer Park. We visited the massive flea market that happens there every Sunday (flea markets here are nothing to eff with). I'd love to print a series of cards or postcards and set-up at table there sometime. We will see how that materializes. The rest of the park was full of musicians, including a full orchestra and opera singer. They are down there in the photo, though it's really hard to see them. Look for the bass in the middle of the photo. The crowd was so big we couldn't get a better view, but the sound was great. They had just finished a cover of The Monster by Eminem, with Rihanna's part sung by the opera singer.


I love the contrast of old and new that you can see everywhere here. Buildings that survived the war, buildings that were created while the city was divided, and the rush of new buildings now. That layered with murals, grafiti, plants, signs, architectural elements, and color everywhere make this city feel so lively.

Bonus photo from the same day.

And another. This is a building on our street where people (including kids!) create chalk graffiti instead of the real deal stuff.

In former East Berlin the crossing signals are these little dudes. Cute, eh? They are different in former West Berlin. This photo is looking down our block. If you examine it closely you can see a small crowd on the corner in the distance. More on that later.

One thing Sam and I have been doing a lot of is walking. We're getting a clear map in our heads of the area around us, we get the blood flowing, and our minds get to work on whatever we're thinking about. We've always done our best thinking on walks. Walks in Berlin are New! and Improved! Now With Beer™! We went to a reddit meetup in the neighborhood of Neukölln one night and decided to walk home over the Oberbaumbrücke. It was a fantastic time.

Another low-quality photo, but NOT low-quality food. Everyone here loves Döners. Everyone but me. Luckily, many Döner places also offer roasted chicken. This place is one of my favorites. Their roasted chickens are spectacular. We got a Döner, that half-a-chicken mit pommes (fries), and that beer you see there for a little less than 9€ ($11.65). That's a tasty dinner for two and then some. Take that McDonalds!

Another thing that is eye-catchingly different here are the playgrounds. The are usually enormous, have super steep slides, the obligatory wooden "Pirate ship", crazy swings, and climbing walls. This photo only shows about half of the playground at Hasenheide Park. Just to the right of this photo were some 7 year old kids playing "throw the dart at the balloons tied to a tree" for someone's birthday. It's like pin-the tail on the donkey with less accuracy and a shorter reaction time. I like that Germans seem to trust their kids not to break their necks because I never liked the all-plastic playgrounds that took over schools as I was growing up. But the fact that I see rear-facing infant carseats strapped into the front passenger seat more often than not here bums me out. It's definitely interesting to see the cultural differences though. When it's all said and done the playgrounds here are really cool.

From another one of our walks. This is a view over the River Spree. The modern green building on the right is an office that does fashion design. Beyond that is Viacom Germany (for MTV and Nickelodeon). The sculpture is called Molecule Man. In the distance is the Fernseheturn (television tower). If you look closely there is a dark brown brick bridge in the distance with two little towers, the Oberbaumbrücke. The masonry on that thing is exquisite. 

I was suffering from a little creative block and lack of direction when I got here. Oftentimes I try to find little projects to keep the juices flowing. Leo and Franzi have a great big kitchen so I spent a lot of the first month hanging out there cooking. I went to the store almost daily and have started to adjust to the differences between groceries here and there. Produce is pretty seasonal. I couldn't find asparagus if I had to, for example, but the variety of mushrooms are great. The lettuce and tomatoes have been so incredibly fresh here. The store sells at least 100 kinds of jarred and pickled vegetables, but only one kind of black beans (canned or dried). Canned goods just aren't common. The sausage here is spectacular and freshly made. The fish is always frozen. The dairy section is enormous. I can get a half pound chunk of good quality camembert for less than 2 euros (there are hundreds of types of cheese and salami). They have at least six different dairy products that are similar to sour cream, and an entire aisle full of different of kinds of yogurt. None of it is Greek style. Tortillas are only available in burrito size and only in flour. The American section of the international foods aisle has Ranch dressing, popcorn, Swiss Miss, barbecue sauce, sundae toppings, and a few other junk food type things. A decent bottle of wine is 4 euros. 

I made a big batch of my grandma's sugar cookies, which are basically crack. I've attempted Shepherd's Pie, succeeded with roasted tomato soup, made spätzle mit linsen, and Sam has done several dishes as well, including Swabian Pfannkuchen (different from Berliner Pfannkuchen that I'll talk about later!). One night when it was just Sam and I, i decided to get experimental with dinner. Above on the left we have a salad with grapefruit, cucumbers, red onion, walnuts, and feta, with a honey vinaigrette. The dish on the right is salmon with pan-roasted tomatoes, shallots, and olives, with polenta. The sauce is "Balsamic crema" that you can just stroll into the store and buy for 4 euros. The salad was killer. The salmon had great potential.

The image above is Sam holding our scanner. My mom performed a huge love service to us and shipped our iMac and scanner to Germany ahead of the rest of our stuff (which is hanging out in storage). That way I can get some heavy duty design work going without having to wait for months. The iMac got held up at customs for a few days, but just this morning Sam set it up and it's ready to roll!

On the 26th of August a group of refugees who are also activists posted themselves up on the roof of a hostel around the corner from our apartment. We came home that day and weren't quite sure what was going on, aside from the fact that Police had blocked off a street on our corner and there were some left-wing student types hanging out. By nightfall there was a march around the neighborhood with at least 200 people. It turns out this protest was just another chapter in a bigger story that has been happening in Berlin this year. The men on the roof were refugees who are being threatened with deportation despite Germany's reputation for having pretty open borders for refugees. The Berlin senate had offered a deal in order to bring them down from a different roof they had been occupying earlier this year and then reneged on their end of the deal. That protest went on so long that the police themselves quit trying to control the hundreds of protesters that turned out.  This time the police strategy was to block off the area in hopes of starving the refugees down from the roof.


In the days that followed, our corner was occupied by lefties who hung banners and camped out in support. The banner above is an example. All-in-all I was impressed by how dedicated protesters were, as well as how civil and fair police seemed to be in contrast to police I've met in the states. They were clearly working but I sensed none of the militaristic air that many police in the states seem to have. They could have been workers at home depot or the post office. The refugees remained on the roof until September 9. During that time the protesters created more banners, the refugees continued to shout slogans and blow whistles from their post on the roof, cars honked their horns in support regularly. There were two more marches and there was even a right-wing counter-demonstration that had a whopping TWO people show up! Very exciting stuff.


Another evening, another walk. This time we were in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg and suddenly heard loud banging noises. It's not uncommon for drunk and or bored kids to shoot off bottle rockets in sewer holes here just to make loud noises, but we came around the corner and realized this was a legit fireworks show for no reason clear to us. Everyone on the street had stopped and people were walking out of restaurants and cafes to watch. The only time one has fireworks here is for New Years and they're always just bottle rockets. 

One night our friend Gunner invited us to a party that was in the courtyard of an apartment block in our neighborhood. The hosts had hung origami, streamers, balloons, paper lanterns with LEDs in them. There was a DJ playing electronic music (the Berliner soundscape as far as I can tell), and there were maybe 50-100 people there. When the cops came to ask people to go home everybody cheered as they left peacefully. Gunner explained that parties usually go like this: the cops come the first time around 11 and ask the host to turn the music down; the second time they come around 1 and say "alright, wrap it up." and at 2 they make their final visit and chase everyone out. No searches, no arrests. We got there around 11:30 so we only saw their second visit and decided to stroll slowly home after that. 

One mission we had was to go to a bakery in Pankow to try their pfannkuchen. A few years ago when Sam asked, Franzi told us that these pfannkuchen were the best in Berlin. What is a pfannkuchen, you ask? Well remember when JFK said he was a Jelly Donut because a Berliner is a Jelly Donut in Germany ("Ich bin ein Berliner...")? It's not true! People in Berlin don't call jelly-filled fried dough Berliners. They call them pfannkuchen (FAN-koo-hen). Germans in other parts of the country do, indeed call them Berliners though. Across the street from the tasty bakery was this gorgeous mural. The front of the building had architectural elements painted on to match.

Later that day we decided to visit our favorite biergarten across the Spree from the Chancellory. In this photo Sam is sitting closer to the Chancellory that one can get to the White House (without a tour). The weather was probably 70°F and we watched tour boats float by and listened to a pretty talented steel guitarist play some nice music. He opened with "When I'm 64", the song that Sam and I used for our recessional when we got married. We smiled and added money to the hat.

At some point the police made the protestors move back from our corner to a park nearby. By then the protestor's encampment had grown to be about 40 people overnight and over a hundred during the day. I think it was a tactical move by police because the move meant that the protestors couldn't see the refugees on the roof and the refugees couldn't see the protestors who were there to support them. The other effect it had though was that it brought the protestors closer to a big commercial intersection so many more people would see the demonstration. This banner is made from old broken umbrella fabric and it looked great. The black umbrella uses a common chant, "No border, no nation, stop deportation."

Another example of how Berlin layers the new and old. Look at that ironwork. There are so many different great doorways here.  And all the tags create extra texture and accent the old world artistry of the door. I think many people would hardly notice this building if it didn't have some of this graffiti.

You know what is awesome here? The weather. That's right. It's been between 85-65°F, but mostly hovering around 70° during the day this month. I think there were only 3 days that didn't have a short rain shower, but maybe just one day that I would call rainy. There's enough sun to get vitamin D but not so much that I have to wear sunscreen to avoid a burn. I like the weather and I love the colors of the sunset. The photo doesn't do justice, but it's a start.

So that's the life in Berlin so far in photos. Additionally, Sam is working tonight (and has 2 more days scheduled!). He made a great resume when we got here and then went on a mission cold-calling gaffers and turned up some work. I am so proud of his determination. For me,  I just finished my first week of German class. I'm the only native English speaker, which I think is exciting. The class has people from all over the world. Peru, France, Russia, Syria, Madagascar, Vietnam. And me. Three hours a day, five days a week for five weeks. At it cost 150€ at the Volkshochschule (like a community college). Heck yes. 

Big Sky Country

Whitney Lea


Leaving Seattle meant we were embarking on a more rigorous leg of the trip, and what better way to start that off than with a very long drive. 486 miles long. We drove for so long that we went from lush, green, and mountainous scenery to barren and dry rocks then on to farmland and finally back to freshly growing forests and glacial mountains. We passed a town in Washington state called George. We passed fields of crops that had been labeled for people on the highway to learn about what was being farmed (SURPRISE! Potatoes...). We drove through swooping highways that ran next to rivers that were swollen to the tops of the banks with muddy water. It was like driving through a Woody Guthrie song.

Our destination was Flathead Lake, Montana. Flathead is one of those places that winds up on all these travel lists for "prettiest places in the USA" and "stops out west that you cannot miss!" and whatnot. The thing that really sealed the deal for me was this photo circulating on the internet:



Because we were scheduled (ha! we still has a schedule back then!) to make it to Montana over Memorial Day weekend, I had even booked a campsite right on the lake. It was the most expensive campsite we have had on this trip to date at a whopping $31 for the night, but it was definitely up there on the list of most gorgeous. 

Our campsite was directly on the water

Our campsite was directly on the water

On driving days (which we have deemed to be any day with a drive that is more than six hours) that also happen to be camping days the sunset is a huge factor in how much time we take on the road and how stressed we feel getting there. Luckily, the sunset at Flathead Lake was one of the latest we had seen. It was at 9:24 on May 25. Isn't that crazy? Dangerously close to the sunset times in Norway, where Sam's sister lives. To balance it out we also lost an hour as we drove back from Pacific to Mountain time, another time issue that tends to come up (as I write this we are in the Atlantic time zone, which does not even exist in the United States).

I think I'm getting used to this parfait thing

We arrived and set up camp – finally getting the chance to air out our wet tent – and even managed to start cooking before the sun went down. Kids kayaked on the Lake and rode their bikes around the camping loop. Big Arm State Park clearly seemed to be a "locals" kind of park, which tends to be a different kind when compared to all the big national parks we had seen previously. More kids and bikes and dogs. More big groups of friends hanging out. A wider spread in age. Up until this point, much if the national park attendance had been us and baby boomers that had already made it to retirement.

We stayed up late, sitting on a log and sharing a bottle of wine while looking at the lake as the stars passed above and car headlights came around a road on one of the inlets.

The morning brought a slight hangover, parfaits, and repacking the camping gear and the car. We stuck our toes in the cool water and concurred that we would definitely consider swimming if we didn't have to drive for three more hours up to a park named Glacier (brrrrr) that day. Driving while soaking wet wasn't exactly something we were interested in getting into. We were slated to explore glacier that day and wanted to use the time for that!

That's not a pot with rocks in it, people!

That's not a pot with rocks in it, people!

An important detail that shouldn't be overlooked here was that Sam and I both woke up feeling a little sore in our throats and a little stuffy, though Sam definitely felt worse than I. My current theory is that our sinuses kicked into schlime* overdrive when we went from a very humid rainforest atmosphere to a very dry mountain atmosphere. Any ENT doctors out there should definitely feel free to chime in. Us feeling bad hadn't really impacted our plans too much though. We each sucked on a cold eeze as we drove, hoping that would somehow help.

To the glaciers!

Soon we started a very high paced drive through the Montanan countryside. It sure was gorgeous. I think Sam and I both agree that it was some of the prettiest landscape we have seen on the entire trip. A big sapphire lake with rolling emerald hills rising out from it. Cherry orchards in abundance all along the way. Big fluffy and bright white clouds that might drop a little rain even when the sun was shining and the rest of the sky was blue. A huge variety of trees with new growth and many shades of green. Perfectly cared-for log houses with hunter green tin roofs. The pictures we took couldn't even start to capture the beauty we felt we were seeing, despite Sam's abilities.

We took a little detour in addition to the scenic route mainly because I think Sam was having fun with the maps and didn't have phone/internet access while I drove. It was worth it regardless because we saw a few more bald eagles eating something gross in a field and a pheasant running around, its bright red and green feathers a stark contrast to the chartreuse grasses it tried to hide in.

We arrived at the west entrance of Glacier only to learn that much of the park was still closed for the season due to snowy conditions. Luckily a ranger (seriously, rangers are your friends!) explained that we could head over to the eastern side of the park and have a better chance at seeing wildlife and doing a little hiking. We decided to stop by our hostel on the way to the other park entrance, listening to a classical music mix of cello-centric pieces that Sam had put together a few years ago. Along the way, this is what we saw:

Thomas and the gang

Thomas and the gang

See? Totally fitting.
We arrived at Brownie's Hostel and checked into our room. Yes, there is a hostel/bakery near East Glacier national park. A private room was nearly as cheap as our campsite from the night before and came with a bed and WiFi. Win-win. The building was almost 100 years old, but I think that only makes it cooler. After we chucked our stuff, we padlocked the clapboard door (feeling quite a lot like the old dudes of the west) and headed off on our steel horse with wheels to see Glacier. The drive was breathtaking. 

En route we saw tons of livestock and saw plenty of signs about open ranges, which luckily prepared us for a band of real horses that decided the grass was greener *right* on the other side, just next to the road. A few miles later two grown horses and a very very young foal were doing the same. Before I knew it (did I mention I passed out, in the napping sense, on the drive?) we had arrived! Sam seemed a little more antsy to get out of the car than I did, probably because he had been manning the gas pedal unchecked for so many miles.

Sam had a trail in mind in hopes of just gaining a bit of a vantage point and we strapped on hiking boots and winter coats and made our way to a trail head. Each of the three trailheads I had seen at this park had very clear warnings about bear activity, strongly encouraging bear spray for hiking groups with 3 or fewer people. Want to know what I was thinking when I read that?: Seriously, Glacier? Everyone knows I over worry. How can you do this to me? How can I push the warnings out of my mind and take this hike at 5pm at the end of hibernation season through bear country? Ugh. Well, I guess I'll carry these big rocks with me to defend Sam and I against grizzlies. And I'll do my best to make lots of noise since Sam won't be paying any attention at all because he'll be clicking away on his camera. How can I be a better sport than I was at Crater Lake, land of the avalanche?

Well, I can tell you I sure did try. Five minutes into the hike we were climbing over a pretty fresh patch of trees that seemed to have succumbed to a snow melt avalanche just days before. I'm talking 30+ pines using on each other all down a mountainside, though none looked to be more than ten years old. Soon we were safely above the treeline, which helps not only with avalanches, but also with bears (in my mind). We looked up at the small patches of snow on the mountains above and saw a small herd of sheep grazing. Looking out to the other peaks reminded me if my very first hike with Sam to the Tannheimer Tal in Austria in 2007. We've sure come a long way in seven years, but I'm still battling the voice of fear that runs through my brain, making me an inherently overly cautious person.

As a storm rolled in we decided to check out part of another trail we had scouted on the way in and hiked back down. The other trail was in trees (eeek) and I totally forgot to mention the duck we saw at this trailhead in the way in! It was dead. And it had its head torn cleanly from its body. Imagine the stories I was making up there! No wonder I was all cautious on our walk. Who eats just the head of a gall-dern duck?? Rather than get hung up on what kind of animal just eats a duck's head, Sam decided it was time for a photo.

"Uhm, excuse me!?"

"Uhm, excuse me!?"

At this point I was really battling my silly inner fears and the refreshing rain that was rolling in across the peaks above was helping quite a bit. Little creeks were already swelling and the rain pushed water over the edge in little rivulets. It was cool enough that it almost felt like ice rather than rain. We spent a few more minutes taking pictures and then decided to leave mainly because it was unclear that any restaurant would be open after 9, a problem we ran into repeatedly on our trip. It was already 7:30 and we were nearly an hour from town.

On the drive back we saw a female moose preparing to cross the street in front of us as we rounded a bend. Sam stopped in time and I attempted to take a photo before she disappeared, but I realized the settings were all wrong just a moment too late. Luckily Adobe Lightroom could still produce this photo of our moose after we adjusted all the settings a lot.

If a moose runs you over and no one is around to hear it...

If a moose runs you over and no one is around to hear it...

Of course that caused us to miss our turn, and as we backtracked we rounded a bend again we saw a beaver! This time I had the camera settings right, though my ability to photograph wildlife out of a car window leaves much to be desired compared to Sam who grabbed the camera as the beaver crossed the road into his side. Don't worry! We had pulled over to the shoulder already and hadn't seen another car for more then 30 minutes.

First time seeing a beaver! That sounded weird.

First time seeing a beaver! That sounded weird.

Once we got back into town we made the rounds to see if there was anywhere that could feed us. We wound up following nicely hand painted billboards to a bar outside of town that also had a kitchen that was still up and running. Phew!

At the end of the meal we went back to the hostel to work on blog posts into the wee hours of the morning. Well, Sam worked. My hands were tied as he used the computer to organize photos for the posts. Instead I read a little and made several cups of camomile tea for each of us in hopes of soothing our throats. By the time we went to bed we sure slept like angels though.

The morning brought sorer throats and a list of annoyances to deal with. Sam was such on the phone with El Paso traffic ticket people again to see if his letter had arrived. On that call he learned that the first person he spoke to had told him to address the letter to the wrong department. The ticket itself didn't have his proper name written on it and the address they had listed for Sam was incorrect because of the officer's illegible handwriting. Sam was given further instructions on how to deal with protesting the ticket, but there was a lot of back and forth.  Not long after that Skype call was finished, the transformer for the hostel blew. Luckily I had already heated the hot water with salt and lemon to gargle and help our throats. To stop the trail of not so fun stuff, we loaded the car and grabbed one of Brownie's famous cinnamon rolls before skipping town with Yellowstone a mere 7 hours away.

*schlime = mucus in German. I bet you couldn't have guessed that. There are so many words like that in German that I bet you'd be fluent by just knowing a few verbs and throwing on a German accent. E.G. schmutzig = dirty, brezel = pretzel, blumen = flowers, antibebepillen = birth control...

What do you think of Seattle?

Whitney Lea

Last call for the Northwest

I consider myself an expert at making snap judgments. I am not saying they're ever accurate. I'm just saying I'm good at being judgmental on a time crunch. Additionally, we get asked to judge what we've seen all the time while on this trip. "What did you think of Blablahsville?" "Is Such-and-such-istan really so liberal/conservative/pretty/relaxing/boring/cold/dusty?" And really, these posts are meant to record our impressions (read judgments) of a city. It can be fun, but seeing so many places has made me reevaluate my super judgey approach to travel because no place is ever one thing. Our time in Seattle was quite a pinball machine of different opinions and helped me to step back and realize that this roadtrip can't be painted in black and white (or red and blue as the case may be). I'd like to use this experience to illustrate what I mean. So let's get our snark on and make some snap judgments, shall we?

We took a nice little car ferry across the bay from Bainbridge Island to get into Seattle. We ate some of the last contents of our cooler on one of the decks while listening to two guys talk about trying to find time to cut their next record and where they wanted to tour. They definitely thought they were a big deal so we played New Yorkers by ignoring their attempts at attention pretty successfully. After that Sam tried to take some cool pictures of the Omimobile on her first voyage on this trip. My impression? Glad we took a ferry in for the novelty of it. But Seattle musicians clearly thought too highly of themselves. They get an eye roll. Seattle was Kanye.

When we arrived in Seattle proper we cut into the downtown grid just a few blocks and soon enough we were near the city market, the bustling tourist center of the city. To our slight horror we discovered our hostel was one block away from this tourism mecca. Central is good. Smack dab in the crowd is a little overwhelming. Ok, so Seattle is really touristy like Times Square, or worse yet, Macy's.

I ran up to the front desk to ask them about parking tips since there was nowhere to park on the busiest block in the city. We then found out we could park the car in a protected garage one block away for *just* $18 a day! We consulted an app to see if we could find better within a mile or so, but no dice. We had to backtrack to the "cheap" garage and it took awhile during rush hour. The traffic also rivaled Times Square. As we traced boxes on the GPS we realized how steep the hills were. Believe it or not these put San Francisco to shame! Sam just kept his foot on the gas at a few red lights because the car would roll backwards if he only used the brake. Seattle is a seriously big hill!

As we got closer to our parking garage Sam mentioned that he thought the homeless population seemed more prevalent than we had seen in other cities. A moment later I looked out the window to see a girl staggering across the street wearing a pajama tank top with disheveled hair and a hospital bracelet who was sporting the most remarkable track marks I had ever seen. And they were all over her arms. She yelled to a guy who looked like his mind was a million miles away. They both seemed lost in their own world. I shuttered and suddenly felt very sad. How could drugs, mental illness, and homelessness be so bad that they were more noticeable than in any other place I had ever been?

We parked the car, loaded ourselves up with clothes for the next two days, our overnight bags, backpacks with valuables and made our way downstairs to confirm with the garage security guys that the hostel's discount would apply. At first they closed the booth's window as Sam approached in his hoodie and started to talk to them. He tapped on the window and they looked at the two of us in a concerned and alarmed way. Did I mention we hadn't showered in two days because there weren't showers at Olympic National park? We could hear people incoherently yelling at each other around the corner, mumbling, could see them walking back and forth. Suddenly I realized the security guys thought we looked like a part of the homeless population Sam had mentioned. We walked out into the street and passed at least 10 people who seemed deeply mentally ill or deeply drug addled on the one block walk to the hostel. Seattle was totally strung out.

The grand yet surprisingly yellow "Green Tortoise"

The grand yet surprisingly yellow "Green Tortoise"

I spent a good amount of time searching for explanations and articles that would discuss the problem. The question has come up in the Seattle subreddit and the community there was generally defensive, mentioning that the problem seemed just as bad or worse in San Francisco, which was far from my impression. I did find a good article that discussed how the city is trying to address multifaceted problem of homelessness and it gave Sam and I something to turn over in our minds a bit as we were there.

We bathed so we would look brand new and then went to have a beer at Pike
Place Brewery
, home to some gorgeous beer label designs. The beer was good too! After that we headed to dinner where we brought our seafood kick to an end with mussels and salmon. Sam swung by a park on the waterfront for a few pictures and it was inhabited by people who seemed to plan to stay the night there.

"Water front"

"Water front"

I was still feeling very sad and confused about Seattle's homeless population and kept trying to understand what the heck made it this way. We went back to the hostel for a night of serious blogging. Seattle, how could I like you if you had so many people living in misery all over the place?

I wanted to see what it was that made so many people like this city and I woke up the next day determined to get away from the tourist district to see a few different neighborhoods. There is no way I would have liked New York or New Orleans if I had only spent time in Midtown or in Bourbon Street. Maybe Seattle was the same way. We took a bus to a bakery and coffee shop in Phinney Ridge and I started feeling nostalgic for Cafe Madeline, my favorite coffee shop in Brooklyn. We had some tasty coffee and lots of fresh-baked carbs with sugar on top (our favorite!). The coffee thing is true. It was tasty no matter where or how we had it in Washington State.

She's excited – so, so excited!

She's excited – so, so excited!

We walked along quiet streets with nice little houses and spectacular gardens. Everyone who was coming and going seemed so happy and very distant from the intensity of Pike Street.

We decided to walk into Green Lake Park so we could make our way to Schmeltzers Sporthaus soccer store to get ourselves some world cup schwag. You see, we remembered to bring almost everything on our trip except for our Germany jerseys, which are the required uniform for fans of Die Mannschaft (in case you aren't aware, the world cup is going on and we'll still be on the road). We debated about what to do and how to properly show our team spirit. We knew that for years now the Seattle Sounders FC has had the best fan base in the MLS so we placed a safe bet that we could find a soccer store in Seattle. Luckily Schmeltzer's was perfect (and shares the surname of one of my favorite – albeit currently injured – German defenders*). When we arrived at the store a soccer game was on and Sam realized it was the champions league final! We had made sure to watch live from the beginning last year – planned our entire day around it, actually – because two German teams (and really most of the star power on the German National Team) were having a showdown for champion of commercial European soccer. This year two teams from the Spanish league were playing for the same title. We picked out some slick looking DFB (Deutscher Fußball Bund) t-shirts and hightailed it to a bar to catch the last 3/4 of the game between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Did I mention they are not only from the same country, but the same city? Yeah. That would be like the Yankees vs. Mets in the world series. We asked the young guy at Schmeltzer's if he knew of a bar nearby that would show the game. He said any of them probably would and when pressed, didn't have a favorite. I now realize that he was likely underage, so he wouldn't be able to offer a good tip. We walked down the Street, back towards the park and came across Über.The bartender was welcoming, the wall art was clever and original, and it was a fun place to catch a game. So glad to know that Seattle is a soccer city!

Likely in it's worst light

Likely in it's worst light

After the game we knew we needed two things: a stroll through the Seattle market and a nap before beginning or evening activities. The market was as crowded as you would expect on a Saturday but the produce looked beautiful and fresh. There were tables and tables of gorgeous flowers, booths of fruits and veggies, and a fresh handmade pasta booth in addition to the famous fish. I had been prepared for a market chock-full of tschochkies and was surprised to see so much fresh food. We arrived at an Italian dry goods and wine shop at one end of the market and looked for a nice bottle for the night. The clerks were so well informed on every region and type and were super helpful and friendly. I thought the market would be purely a tourist trap, but I am pleased as punch to say that isn't the case at all. If I lived in Seattle I would brave the crowds to get some of my groceries there. Seattle's tourist center still served its original purpose.

So after the aforementioned nap it was time to get our night on the town started. We walked at a lively pace to Honey Hole, which was supposed to be a bar with food. We were short on time but knew we would need to eat. Little did we know Honey Hole was having its 15th Anniversary party, complete with huge crowds, cheap craft beers, all sorts of decorations, and the highlight if it all: The Country Lips.

Colorful affair

We squeezed into a table next to a few other people and ordered our food and then remained transfixed by the band as they played. You can hear them on their website, but the live act was a few magnitudes better sounding and more entertaining to watch. They had the energy and the sound of the band at Robert's in Nashville, but the room was much, much smaller so the music wasn't as amplified and was thusly easier to hear. Seattle really did have a music scene and we didn't have to even try looking to find it!

Before we knew it, we were done eating and it was time to head to the Oddfellows building to see Bring It!, a fundraiser show for the Seattle Burlesque Hall of Fame competitive team. Sam and I are both pretty big fans of burlesque, having spent many a night in Coney Island USA for Burlesque at the Beach, the Parkside Lounge, and the Slipper Room when we lived in New York. It is definitely one of the things I will miss most about living there. We've dragged many people to shows, even my mom! Burlesque (or neo-burlesque) nowadays is closer to performance art and has really gained popularity all over the country. I've seen acts about bedbugs, Plaxico Burress, cheese, surviving cancer, the Grinch, an entire show about the Marx brothers, and a number of other things too weird to describe on this blog (I'll gladly go into it over beers though!). I think a little part of the increasing interest in neo-burlesque is due to A Wink And A Smile streaming on Netflix. A Wink And A Smile is a documentary about Miss Indigo Blue's burlesque school in Seattle, so naturally I was psyched to go to a show that she was hosting. It was in effect a fundraiser to help their burlesque team fly to Las Vegas for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, where acts from all over the country perform and compete against each other. That meant that the performances we saw at Bring It! would be the acts that the Seattle team was doing for the competition. The show itself was really fun and it was enjoyable to compare and contrast the style of acts and even the burlesque community in Seattle vs. New York. The costumes in Seattle were of a quality beyond anything we had seen in New York. Amazingly gorgeous. The acts themselves tended to be much more tame conceptually and less about clever humor, though Ernie von Schmaltz did an interesting Lord of the Dance act and Scarlett O'Hairdye and Bolt Action did one of the best robot acts I've seen (youtube!) (and I've seen many) while managing to have subtle and well-timed humor. Beyond that, the show took itself fairly seriously. I've always loved New York's ability to laugh at itself, particularly in that community. Overall though, the show was a great way to spend our evening and Seattle's burlesque scene was more than I'd imagined. We walked back to the hostel and I felt like I had a much more varied impression of the city of Seattle.

We left the show, Whitney winking and me smiling

Our last morning was spent getting groceries for the next few days and then we went to Nollie's for a tasty breakfast and to tie up a few loose ends. Our next few days would be in Montana and we knew we wouldn't have cell phone signal or access to wifi so we called family to let them know. This is an important part of road tripping because once or twice we've come back from having no service and received concerned voicemails from loved ones. In this case my sister, Mary, was due to have my nephew over those next few days and I wanted to make sure all was well. I also started to iron out details on some freelance work that was offered a few days prior (the slow pacing of the blog posts lately has been because I was hogging the laptop to do some actual design work for this project!). After that, we strapped ourselves in for a full day of driving. Our next stop: Flathead Lake, Montana.

So, at the end of it all, there were things about Seattle that were tough to see and things that were really great. It lands on a spectrum just like anywhere else. But if this were a buzzfeed quiz what would I say about Seattle? It's Portland's strung out, yet justly self-assured, artistic older brother.

*Not exactly correct: The store is actually named "Schmetzer's Sporthaus", thus loosing the similarity to the authors darling player (red).